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Floyd’s Jacksonville Center Has a New Director

david.jpgMeet David St. Lawrence, author, blogger, woodworker, husband of Loose Leaf reader Gretchen, and one of the most upbeat people I know.

The St. Lawrence’s are new to Floyd, but because they have been connected to Floyd for so long via blogging they don’t feel like newcomers to most of us. I see them regularly at our monthly Spoken Word Open Mic and at our monthly blogger meet-ups, which David spearheaded and which are likely to draw as many as a dozen regional bloggers. It’s also not uncommon to run into David and Gretchen at the Café Del sol, where David can be seen sipping latte and plugging away on his laptop.

But the St. Lawrence’s are out and about for more than those occasions. I know because David is a roving reporter who posts regularly about Floyd happenings on his blog, Ripples. I check it out daily so as not to miss anything.

David, who has a woodworking business called “Box-Carts” and a book about surviving corporate life called “Danger Quicksand Have a Nice Day,” now has a new incarnation to add to his resume. He was recently offered and accepted the newly created position of Executive Director at the Jacksonville Center for the Arts. Located just south of downtown Floyd in a restored 1940’s dairy barn, the Jacksonville Center is a manifestation of a grassroots effort to support the arts and local culture and promote them as viable economic boosts to our rural county. jax2.jpg

Over the past 10 years, the Center has transformed from the dark and dusty place I remember to a bustling hub of activity. Incorporated as a non-profit entity in 1995, the barn and adjoining buildings are home to an art business incubator, an art gallery, artist’s studios, a retail shop, lodging for weekend and weeklong classes, and a folk school that is currently offering classes in blacksmithing, pottery, and glassworks. There is even a windmill on the property and a straw bale building under construction, both projects of The Sustainable Living Education Center.

Now David has been enlisted to help put all this on the map. He was kind enough to answer my questions about his new position, which are as follows:

1. David, Executive Director of the Jacksonville Center is a newly created position. How and why did it come about?

I have had an interest in the Center ever since we first visited Floyd two years ago and wanted to do something to support the mission of helping local artisans become more viable. I was asked to do a study of the current situation at the Jacksonville Center and to make recommendations which might lead to greater viability for the center and the artisan community it serves. windmill.jpg

The study uncovered that the lack of an Executive Director placed an undue burden on the staff and the Board of Directors because everyone had to spend extra time trying to handle the traffic that an ED would normally handle.

I made a series of recommendations with the first one being that they should find and hire an Executive Director. They asked if I could fill that position and the rest was history.

2. What kind of changes do you envision happening under your direction?

We have incredible assets for a local non-profit group, highly dedicated staff members and volunteers, internationally known artists and artists who teach the courses, and a physical plant that offers plenty of scope for expansion. My job is to see that these assets are used effectively and are promoted in such a way that expansion of the Center and its offerings is made possible.

Non-profit art centers like Jacksonville depend on grants and donations in addition to paid services. All of these sources of income depend on providing excellent customer experiences and achieving goals that are real to the community and students.

My job is to provide the necessary support to the staff that will enable them to provide consistently excellent customer experiences. That means realignment of effort in some cases, rather than visible organizational change.

3. Where will you start? What will you zero in on first?

I have already started and our first priority is to get the word out about the new course offerings. You can see the latest 2006 Class Schedule online at floydcounty.com

4. Will blogging play a role? And with this new position, will you still have time to blog daily and come to our monthly blogger meet-ups?

Blogging is one way to spread the word rapidly and at very low cost. I will be starting a weblog at the Jacksonville Center which will have frequent stories featuring events, courses, and artisans of the Jacksonville Center. When the weblog goes live later this week, it will be called Jacksonville Center Online and the URL will be: http://jacksonvillecenteronline.info (This weblog is up and running now)

5. I’ve been very impressed with the range of arts and folk skills showcased at the Jacksonville Center. Do you think there will eventually be room to integrate the literary arts into the plans? I would love to see a small press available to the community.

There is room for that kind of expansion and I would certainly support any proposal which would lead to the establishment of such a program. The things you might want to include in such a proposal would include the size of the target audience, the cost of such a program, sources of instruction, and some idea of how contributions or grants might be obtained. In short, all programs require financing and a justification for their existence. Programs which are well thought out will get favorable attention.

6. How will your experience in the corporate world enhance your work at the Jacksonville Center and how might it hamper it, considering the Center’s small town roots?

Fifty years in the corporate trenches has convinced me that the make-break of any enterprise, including non-profits is whether the products and services are effectively marketed. You can have the best courses and products in the world, but if no one knows about them you will not succeed.

The Jacksonville Center has some amazing offerings. Not enough people know about them in a timely fashion.

I grew up in a small-town environment and I place great value on the culture that Floyd currently enjoys. Making Floyd, the Jacksonville Center, and local artists better known needs to be done skillfully and tastefully. The culture that built the Jacksonville center is one of its greatest strengths. Any changes to the center's operation will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. An artist who evolves from selling at craft fairs to selling in international galleries learns to market more effectively, not to debase their work to meet a more commercial standard.

7. As a blogger, I can’t help but wonder and ask: Don’t you think the Jacksonville Center will make a good site for a future blogger convention?

I sure do!

Post Note: I got so involved in my interview with David that I forgot it was 13 Thursday! I guess I'll be posting 13 on Friday this week. See you tomorrow.


Sounds like David has great plans for the Jacksonville Center; great news all the way around! Terrific interview, and we've always known you'd be great for the Blue Ridge Gazette! Submission of this or any other article would be welcome!

This brings up a very interesting issue—how to be the leader/director of a group of creative people. I honestly believe the only way to do it is by immediately establishing a kind of corporate top-down chain of command. Sounds horrible, right? Antithetical to the artist spirit?

Try doing it the other way!

I once did an article for The Journal of Business Strategy on a free-form radio station—maybe the best anywhere—in northern New Jersey. The guy that runs it never worked in a corporation—though the world would probably be a better place if he ran Exxon! He learned the hard way early that, especially with a group of creative people, there needs to be a chain of command and a decision-maker at the top. It’s understood at the station now that once discussion, which takes place in a structured environment, is over, an executive decision is made. And that’s it.

The guy’s style drove some people away—not many, and mostly people on their own power trips. For the most part, everyone at the station really respects the guy. But they think of his as the boss—the CEO. It is important that he is also a DJ and one of the most knowledgeable and creative. He also expertly taps into others creativity, and lets that be the force driving things forward. He gives it structure, I guess.

To make a long comment short (ha!), when the college from which the station originally broadcast went under (Upsala College in East Orange), the station, WFMU, was able to buy its license and a building in Jersey City. It is now completely independent and totally listener sponsored—no advertising and no underwriting. They did this despite having a tiny transmitter in Northern New Jersey that can’t even reach Brooklyn because they were real Internet pioneers. They now reach, and get pledges from around the world, They also have a morning Jewish culture program that is enormously popular worldwide. It brings in a lot of listener dollars. AND they can thank an arguably draconian, corporate style executive management which thrives in one of the most anti-business environments on earth. (They station manager’s name is Ken Friedman).

It is very strange. And interesting.

Please excuse the top down typos above~,:^)

I agree with you Rick about the chain of command. Our parent-run cooperative school here in Floyd struggled for years trying to work under a consensus model. It was a great experiment that the kids benefited from but also suffered from, because the flip side of it was a sort of anarchy.

I'm glad to know that David has both extensive corporate management skills and is a craft person. He's a woodworker/artist and is familiar with craft shows etc. I wish I had incorporated one question geared towards that fact.

The Jacksonville Center has come sooo far by the work of so many that it just has to take off in a BIG way and not just survive but thrive!

I'm very impressed with all of this and great interview, by the way.
We have the Arts Center here on the island and the Keyhole, our co-op where artists sell their work.
The Arts Center offers various workshops throughout the year and has a gallery opening once a month. During the summer, they offer classes for the school children, which is really nice.
Wishing Floyd all the best on their future endeavors.

Sounds like some really great ideas/plans. And yes, from what I read it'll make a great place.

My T 13 is up

Great interview. Very interesting. One of Nyssa's friends has a grant to go to several bluegrass and county old time festivals this summer. He plays mandolin and went on the geology trip with her. Stavros is going to be at the Floyd Festival as well as others in Colorado, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Ooohh..ooohhh. That's a blogvention I could get into!


Thank you for the incredible validation and for a great interview!

I would have responded earlier but I have been busy with Jacksonville Center business since early this morning.

The center is one of the most rewarding places to work I have ever seen. The staff and the volunteers handle enormous amounts of work with a cheerfully winning attitude.

I am really proud to be part of this organization. It is going to be a most interesting year!

I have updated my "Welcome to Jackson Center Online" post so that it links to your article.

Thanks again.

What a great location and undertaking! Marvelous interview, and good luck to David. On coordinating artists -- I remember a publication to that effect in Boston, titled, "Herding Cats." But I also know how strongly those artists have banded together, especially in the face of gentrification over at Fort Point Channel. Over here, our Citrus County Art League (in existence now for 40 years) has been juggling the artistic and business end. Not easy, but it can be done.

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